The Not-So-Obvious Keys to Motivation

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Motivation is an interesting phenomena. Why do some people have it while others just seem so darn uninterested? This especially intrigues me when thinking about the health and fitness industry. It’s really a matter of living a healthy, fulfilling life or living a shorter life unable to do the things you enjoy. It’s really that simple. I heard someone the other day exclaim that if they lose 5% body fat in two months, their significant other will reward them with an iPad. An iPad? Really? Just for losing a couple pounds? So it got me to thinking, is motivation really that hard to come by? I don’t think so.


The other day, I stumbled upon this awesome quote that I think sums up motivation as a whole:

“Never underestimate the vital importance of finding early in life the work that for you is play. This turns possible underachievers into happy warriors.” -Dr. Samuelson

It’s not that some have motivation while others don’t. The problem is that often times, many individuals chase after the wrong motivators or worse, they end up never finding what motivates them at all.

The Power of Extrinsic Motivation

The most common motivators are also things we assume to be the most powerful:

  • Financial compensation
  • Rewards based on tangible objects (clothes, video games, etc.)

These are called extrinsic motivators and they form the basis of our idea of motivation. We chase better jobs for the rewards of higher pay. We tell kids to do well in school so that they can get better jobs and therefore better pay (that’s the illusion anyway). Then, we reward them with money or toys when they get straight A’s. I’m not demonizing it – I remember getting paid $40 for every report card that had straight A’s.

But, are extrinsic motivators that powerful at all? Turns out, probably not. Don’t believe me? Check out this video from Dan Pink on his TED talk about the Surprising Science of Motivation:

It turns out that the things we typically associate with motivation, namely monetary incentives, dull creativity and slow performance.

If your reading right, that should have really caused you to pause for a second and st-st-st-stutter…monetary incentives don’t work? It really does make sense though. If someone is completing a task simply for more money (or more weight loss, etc), then their chance of continuing the lifestyle after the incentives are gone is miniscule. Think about the above example, is the significant other really going to give her a new toy every time she does something healthy? Are we really going to pay kids for good grades at 25 when they are in college and doing well?

What Actually Does Work

So if bribing individuals with dollar bills and objects doesn’t work in the long run, how to we motivate the entire world to get Β moving? The answer lies in enjoyment. The simple fact is that people do what they love. For most people, that means sitting in front of a TV and playing video games. For others, that’s kicking their own ass in a Crossfit workout. They key is finding something you enjoy that keeps you active and helps you reach your goals.

How exactly do you find that thing? Here are five tips to get you there:

  1. Try everything – Don’t like running on a treadmill? You have to give it a try to find out. Try everything, from Zumba to racquetball to powerlifting. You’ll never know whether or not it will stick until you try.
  2. Skip things you hate – If you absolutely hate something, don’t do it. As the old cliche goes “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” The same holds true for fitness. Hate the treadmill? Get your cardio in by skipping rope or playing basketball. If you force yourself to do something you hate, it will give you a negative mindset towards fitness. Working out should be fun. Can’t find out how to make it that way? Hire a personal trainer to teach you things you enjoy.
  3. Journal about your journey – Seems silly, but write down your feelings/thoughts after you go through a workout. Did you feel ecstatic? Jot down how excited you were. Next time your struggling for motivation, look back through your experiences and read the ones that talk about how awesome you felt. You’ll be motivated to get that feeling back.
  4. Tell your friends – While money and objects don’t work well in the long run, there is something in society that we crave more than anything and that’s social acceptance. We want to be valued and appreciated by our peers. Tell your friends about your fitness journey so they can help keep you accountable. Join a website like Fitocracy to keep yourself motivated and avoid social ridicule.
  5. Read about what you love – Find something you enjoy and connect with others in your field that do the same thing. The more you feel like a family, the worse you’ll feel if you let people down.

The takeaway: don’t rely on objects to force others into completing a task or working harder. Chances are, they’ll be doing everything for the wrong reason.

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